Relief efforts help neighbors see church in different light

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Relief efforts help neighbors see church in different light

Nov.13, 2005  News media contact: Tita Parham*  
800-282-8011   Orlando {0396}

An e-Review Feature
By Tita Parham

PEMBROKE PINES — The Rev. Adam Zele (right) asks Tristan James how things are going after Hurricane Wilma. James received a tarp for his roof, which was damaged during the storm, from Epworth United Methodist Church, where Zele serves as pastor. James' house is about a block from the church. Photo by Tita Parham, Photo #05-272.

PEMBROKE PINES — On a sunny afternoon four days after Hurricane Wilma barreled through their South Florida community, Tristan James and his neighbors were all doing the same thing — sweeping, repairing and cleaning up.

One thing he wasn't doing was securing his damaged roof. It was already covered by a blue tarp, one he had gotten from nearby Epworth United Methodist Church.

Members of the church gave away a supply of tarps that had been donated by other churches in the Florida Conference. The free gift made a big impression on James and other neighbors who had known little about the church they pass almost every day.

"If it wasn't for the congregation I don't know what I would have done," James said. "I certainly wouldn't be able to live here today."

James' house is located about a block from the church. It was surrounded by downed trees and power lines and at least a dozen workers trying to collect and mulch the tree debris. He and his neighbors are certain a tornado skipped through the neighborhood because of the erratic damage.

During the storm James said he heard the wind lift up the roof of his house, letting water pour into his bedroom and the front part of the house. He and host of family members, including his wife's 88-year-old father and 67-year-old mother, had to move to another part of the house to ride out the storm.

PEMBROKE PINES — A team from Epworth United Methodist Church puts a tarp on the roof of church member Patty Hill's house. The church gave tarps to members and neighbors around the church to help them secure their homes after Hurricane Wilma. Photo by Tita Parham, Photo #05-273.

Church member Patty Hill told James about the tarps. A few days after the storm Hill walked up and down the streets around the church — her neighborhood — looking for the most damaged roofs so she could tell the owners tarps were available. The church helped install some, but didn't have enough work teams to help everyone, so people were welcome to go to the church and pick up one, then install it themselves.

Some neighbors were surprised the church was giving them away. "One woman said she had no cash and was very thrilled to get it for free," Hill said. "Some people were kind of fearful to open the door."

The church's pastor, the Rev. Adam Zele, said one woman was pleasantly shocked he didn't ask her about her faith to "make sure she was Methodist or Protestant."

"At the moment, that's not what we're called to be questioning," he said as he watched a team from the church put a tarp on Hill's home. 

Zele said "getting as many roofs done today" was the church's priority. Rain was expected the next day. Members had already given away about 40 tarps, half to church members and the other half to neighbors.

PEMBROKE PINES — Pew cushions lie on the tops of the pews at Epworth United Methodist Church. Members put them there so they could finish drying after being soaked from water leaking through the roof during Hurricane Wilma. Photo by Tita Parham, Photo #05-271.

Church members also cooked meals for members and residents and have been keeping a list in the office of people's needs, all while trying to deal with damage to the church. The sanctuary roof had major leaks, causing flooding inside. All of the pew cushions, lectern vestments and hymnals were soaked. Church members had to pile them on the lawn to dry them out. Zele said a few people driving by the church stopped to take pictures.

"I told them, 'If you come back Sunday, I'll let you read them,' " he said.

Zele said the long-term needs of the community will likely be economic, and he anticipates people will need help with rent and utilities. Residents and church members were out of work after the storm because of power outages and damage to businesses. The church has money in an outreach budget to help with those needs. It also runs a food pantry.

James and his family are grateful for what the church has already done for them. "Epworth United Methodist Church helped us out in our time of need," he said.

James works for an international publishing company in Miami selling advertising. He is originally from London and has lived in Florida for about six years, three of those in the neighborhood behind the church. His family had been attending a church in Miami Lakes and had never visited Epworth United Methodist Church because he says they "just didn't know anyone there."

They planned to visit the church the next Sunday. When asked why he said, "Because it's a community church."

After the storm James said neighbors who had never spoken to each other said hello in passing. They shared "what they had in their fridge and freezer" and pitched in to help each other. He and a few others had a barbeque.

"I suppose in God's own way he has pulled everyone together, and the church has been the core part of that," James said. 

How to help with recovery and cleanup

* Gather supplies, volunteer: Affected areas need a variety of supplies and assistance from work teams. Trucks and truck drivers to deliver supplies are also needed. Because needs change daily, individuals and churches interested in helping should contact the SRC at 800-282-8011, extension 149, or to find out what they can do to help. The center matches individuals/teams with current and emerging needs. Health kits and flood buckets are also needed and can be sent to the Florida Conference Disaster Response Depot in Madison (call to make delivery arrangements: 850-869-0882 or 850-929-4938). Items included in both can be found at

* Give generously: Individuals are encouraged to give to "Florida Storm Recovery" Fund, Conference Special #605, to assist with cleanup and recovery. Checks should include the fund name and number in the memo line. Checks may be given at local United Methodist churches and made payable to the church or mailed to Conference Treasurer, The United Methodist Church, P.O. Box 3767, Lakeland, FL 33802, and made payable to Florida Conference Treasurer. Individuals may also give to UMCOR Advance No. 982523, "Hurricanes 2005 Global." Contributions can be made online at, at local churches or by phone at 800-554-8583. Checks should include the Advance number and name on the memo line. Checks given at local churches should be made payable to the local church. Checks mailed to UMCOR at P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087-9068 should be made payable to UMCOR.

For response updates go to


This article relates to Disaster Response.

* Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.

Contact Us

The Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church

450 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue
Lakeland, FL 33815

(863) 688-5563 or toll free (800) 282-8011